Procrustes was a nasty fellow.

The mythological innkeeper had strong opinions about beds, believing that a bed should fit perfectly. Of course one can’t get a new and perfectly fitting bed for each guest, so he created the perfect bed that would fit all guests. He would then kidnap travelers, feed them a delicious supper and prepare them for sleep. Those who were too short to fit the perfect bed perfectly were stretched on a rack; those who were too tall had their feet lopped off.

All myths have a message, and the message of the story of Procrustes is nicely summarized by Nicholas Nassim Taleb:

“[W]e humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences. Further, we seem unaware of this backward fitting…”1

As the title indicates, this article is about the instincts and subtypes. But it is also about the danger of falling into the same trap Procrustes did, of thinking that our model is ideal—complete, perfect, and fully formed—and then force-fitting reality into it. It is about the importance of using the Enneagram while being aware of its limitations. It is about examining our assumptions and seeing if they should be modified based on new knowledge and insights.

As anyone who keeps up with Enneagram literature knows, the topic of instincts and subtypes is becoming one of increasing interest in the community. This interest is justified, I believe, and I long ago came to the conclusion that working with the Enneagram without considering the instincts is like having one hand tied behind your back; you may get the job done but it will be more difficult and messier than it needs to be.

However, many of the Freudian-influenced teachings about the instincts and subtypes popular in the Enneagram literature are built on concepts that are scientifically out-dated and the literature is not necessarily wrong, but it is often muddy and—more significantly, I believe— incomplete. The goal of this article is to help in bringing the thinking about the subtypes up to date with what we know from modern science and provide a broader perspective on what is happening in relation to this important aspect of human nature.

This is the first of two parts of this article. In part one, we will explore the roots of the traditional2 teachings of the Enneagram literature regarding subtypes. We’ll start with a brief examination of Freud’s understanding of instincts and then take a look at Claudio Naranjo’s theoretical model. From there, we shall explore the more-modern science that is relevant to the topic and examine the ways in which these insights should influence the way we understand the subtypes. Essentially, I believe that the current popular theoretical construct regarding the subtypes ignores very specific instinct-related behaviors that correlate to what is traditionally discussed in the literature. This is partly due to terminology—the way we categorize a set of phenomena can limit what we see. Looking more broadly can help us develop a fuller understanding of human nature.

Part Two of this article will describe the language I use to describe the subtypes and the instinct-related behaviors that have led me to using this language.

A word about the style of this article; as it is appearing in Nine Points Magazine rather than the Enneagram Journal, I will attempt to keep the technical level aimed at the general reader. There may be times, however, when I summarize concepts and ideas rather than go into as much detail as I could. I will be adding footnotes where appropriate, but as this is not as academic an article as it would be for the Journal; I ask for the reader’s indulgence when I summarize knowing that sources and more-detailed explanations can and will be supplied in the Comment Section should they be requested.

Readers of my blog ( or other articles will know that I use terminology for the instincts that is different from the typical Freudian-based terms “self-preservation,” “social,” and “sexual” or “one-to-one.” I hope it will become clear through the course of these articles why I have chosen “preserving,” “navigating” and “transmitting,” respectively, as alternatives and I will switch back and forth between traditional terms and my terms as necessary.

I also want to point out that the approach to instincts and subtypes that I lay out here should not be considered in any way complete or final. Science, and any body of knowledge worth studying, changes and adapts as new facts or insights become available. When it comes to the Enneagram, and especially the subtypes, there is still much to be learned and incorporated into the system; to think of it in any other way might turn the Enneagram into a dogma, rather than a science of the mind.

The framework I am proposing is a working hypothesis. We understand relatively little about instincts and our knowledge of the way the brain truly works is in its infancy. My guess is that a better explanation for what are called the “instinctual subtypes” will ultimately be found in even deeper workings of the brain, such as in the affective systems identified by Jaak Panksepp.2 My goal is not to explain the source of these behaviors per se, it is to offer a broader understanding of the kinds of behaviors we demonstrate and to categorize those behaviors in a way that allows for more-practical and effective work on ourselves.

Throughout the article we will have to stop to define some terms, and at the outset we need to define what we mean by “instincts” and “subtypes.”

Though you may find the occasional reference to “instincts” in books aimed at the lay reader, instincts are not discussed much anymore in the serious study of personality because no one really agrees on what they are. Even Charles Darwin wrestled with the topic in “On the Origin of Species,” as Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin write:

“The reason Darwin wisely refused to provide a comprehensive definition of instinct was that the concept has so many different dimensions to it. The same is true today. At their simplest, instincts may be nothing more than reflex reactions to external triggers, like the knee jerk or the baby’s sucking of a teat. In more complex forms, instincts are a series of movements coordinated into a system of behavior that serves a particular end, such as locomotion or nonverbal communication.”3

The only thing that scientists can agree on regarding instincts is that humans have them; that they are biological in origin but that their expression is triggered and shaped by our environment; and that they exist somewhere on a continuum between simple reflexes and acquired habitual behaviors (although they are closer to the former than the latter).

When talking about instincts I like to refer to the definition given by Merriam-Webster as it captures these elements nicely. “Instincts” are “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason.”4

Instincts are aspects of human nature that are independent from the Enneagram-based understanding of personality. They are, as the Enneagram Institute teaches, “independent variables.” The expression of our instinctive behavior, however, is influenced by our Ennea-type. Therefore, “subtypes” can be thought of as the result of the intersection of our instincts and our Ennea-type.

The Enneagram Institute uses the term “instinctual variant” rather than subtype because the instincts are an independent variable from Ennea-type. I think this is a legitimate position, but since we are generally think about this body of knowledge collectively as “The Enneagram,” I am comfortable using the term “subtypes” to describe the three versions of nine types. Rather than using the term “instinctual variant,” I use “instinctual bias” to categorize people of different Ennea-types who share the same dominant instinct domain (e.g., all “Preserving” types). Why do you do that? (Preserving Threes are a subtype of Threes, but all “preserving” types are not a subtype of anything other than humans. Thus, it needs a different name so as not to confuse “all preserving types” from, say, “all Preserving Threes.”) Also, while I think about it, and you may deal with this later, why do you use verbs rather than nouns which the others seem to use. I think this is also fundamental. May have mentioned this before but when you explore the “submodalities” of abstract nouns or nominalizations, you get very different representations to the exploration of verbs … (The noun form, for me, implies a goal. Evolution is not teleological; it happens and there is a result from that “happening.” The instincts are not, for example, for the purpose of “self-preservation”, but preserving behaviors lead to an increased chance of reproduction. However, I don’t want to get into all that here; maybe in part two…)

Looking at Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the giants in the history of ideas and his impact on our understanding of human nature is probably only exceeded by that of Charles Darwin in modern times. Freud’s writing was prodigious, and many of his ideas resonate still. However, much of what Freud wrote was either wrong or speculative, and has been replaced by newer understandings of human nature. Nowhere is this truer than in his writing on instincts.

People often forget—as Frank Sulloway points out in his exhaustive examination of Freud’s legacy, “Freud: Biologist of the Mind”—that Freud was a medical doctor schooled in biology before he turned his attention to the psyche. Sulloway contends that “many, if not most, of Freud’s fundamental conceptions were biological by ‘inspiration’ as well as by implication.”5 Sulloway explains how as the study of psychology moved away from a biological understanding of humans, the biological roots of Freud’s teaching became obscured and largely lost in the practice of orthodox psychoanalysis. At least partially because of this throughout much of the 20th century humans were seen as “psychological” creatures, barely affected by our inherent nature, rather than biological creatures largely driven by our inherent nature. Fortunately, the rise of evolutionary psychology in recent decades has begun to remedy this misunderstanding; unfortunately, many in the psycho-spiritual community have continued to ignore evolutionary psychology and its implications.

Freud’s writing on instincts changed and evolved over time. This is, of course, as it should be; great thinkers develop ideas and then change them as new insights occur. Eventually, however, he settled on the idea that there are three main instincts occurring in humans—the self-preservation instinct, the sexual instinct, and the social instinct. When the instincts remain in an appropriate tension with each other—primarily the libido or sexual instinct being held in check by the self-preservation and/or “death” instinct—our instinctive impulses or drives don’t rise to the level of our consciousness, according to Freud.

The concept of a death instinct, or “thanatos,” has fallen from favor and has been generally discarded from mainstream psychology. Interestingly, Freud saw the “social instinct” as less fundamental than the self-preservation and sexual instincts, as this excerpt6 from “The Freud Encyclopedia: Theory, Therapy and Culture” points out, referring to Freud’s “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego”:

“Freud found that the human being is a social animal. This was quite a move beyond his intensely intrapsychic, drive-motivated view of development, but, not surprisingly, Freud had to find an instinct to explain social relations. He named it ‘the social instinct.’ But instead of giving it a solely biological basis, he looked for its origin in social terms. He said that ‘the social instinct’ may not be a primitive one and insusceptible of dissection, and that it may be possible to discover the beginnings of its development in a narrower circle, such as that of the family’ (p. 70).”

Fast forward to the Enneagram of Personality

Gurdjieff wrote about an instinctual center, but since he wasn’t talking about the Enneagram as model of personality, I’ll go directly to Oscar Ichazo, founder of the Arica school and the first person to attach characteristics of personality to the Enneagram diagram. From there, we will look at what Claudio Naranjo has to say on the topic of instincts.

Ichazo has a different approach to Freud’s, and makes some fairly speculative claims about the instincts being related to specific organs and biological systems (such as the “relational instinct” being rooted in the respiratory system) that aren’t really supported by the scientific literature as far as I can tell. Naranjo returns to Freud’s perspective, though with some significant disclaimers. Together, Ichazo and Naranjo added and refined the insight that, as with the Enneagram fixations, people tend to express the instincts differentially. That is, each of us tends to express or act out one set of instincts more frequently than the others. Thus, according to the schema that has come to us through Ichazo and Naranjo, one could be not just an Ennea-type Two, for example, but also a self-preservation Two, a social Two, or a sexual Two.

Ichazo identified three instinctive drives: conservation, relation, and adaptation.

The conservation instinct, according to Ichazo, is:

our basic instinct to feed ourselves in order to survive. It is the outcome of the needs of our alimentary tract, and the center is felt in the solar plexus at the top of the abdominal cavity. It projects the innate question “How am I?” We constantly have to answer that question “Am I hungry and tense?” or “Am I satisfied and relaxed?”7

The relation instinct:

in the Arica theory is the natural instinct for associating oneself in a community with other human beings as a basic principle of survival. It is the outcome of the needs of our circulatory system, composed of the heart, lungs, arteries, veins, and kidneys, and it is centered and felt in the cardio-pulmonary plexus at the center of the thoracic cavity. We are basically related to our environment, even more directly than with our skin, by our lungs and the alveoli, which are in immediate contact with the air and through it our environment.8

The adaptation instinct is:

the outcome of the constant need to adapt ourselves to our natural environment and also for adapting ourselves to our social environment, because this is a basic need of our survival. It is the outcome of the central nervous system composed of the encephalon, the spinal cord, and the peripheral nerves, and we feel its center in the cranial cavity.9

It is easy to see that these three instincts are different from those typically identified in the Enneagram literature, which come more specifically from Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo tied together a post-Freudian understanding of the instincts with Gurdjieff’s model of the psyche, and settled on a model that includes two stacked circles that each contain within them three separate circles. The lower circle represents the “Personality” and “diminished awareness” and includes within it a circle for fixations, a circle for passions, and a circle for three “bound” instincts—preservation, social, and sexual. The top circle represents “Essence” and “fully awakened awareness” and includes within it higher cognition, virtues, and “free” instinct.10

Though Naranjo uses Freud’s terms, self-preservation, social, and sexual instincts, he does so with proper caution and points out that Freud’s ideas have not stood the test of time. He goes on to say that his model is unique and original (which it certainly seems to be):

“Unlike Freud’s two instinct theories and also unlike Dollard and Miller’s view of behavior in terms of a great multiplicity of drives, the theory proposed here acknowledges three basic instincts and goals behind the multiplicity of human motivation (purely spiritual motivation excluded): survival, pleasure, and relationship. I think that though some today…may prefer to… say that neurosis implies a perturbation of organismic self-regulation, few would question the great importance of sex, preservation and the relationship drive and their joint centrality as pervasive goals of behavior. Though Marx’s interpretation of human life emphasized the first, Freud’s the second, and present day Object-Relations theorists the third, I do not think that anybody has embraced a view that explicitly integrates these three fundamental drives.11, 12

I have written before that, for me, “Character and Neurosis” is the one indispensible Enneagram book and I continue to believe that even though I don’t agree with everything in it. Naranjo’s breadth of knowledge is unsurpassed in the Enneagram literature and his explorations of the nine Ennea-types are must-reads for anyone interested in truly understanding the model.

That said, no body of knowledge that considers itself to be a science (even a social science) should view itself to be complete because new facts, insights, and revelations are occurring all the time. Any good approach to science incorporates those facts, insights, and revelations as appropriate. While I believe that Naranjo is mostly right, I believe there are insights from the biological sciences and from evolutionary psychology that can expand and enrich our understanding of the subtypes. It seems to me that Naranjo may be limiting his teachings of the subtypes by over-relying on understandings of instincts that do not incorporate the literature of evolutionary psychology.

Further, it seems to me that he is sometimes force-fitting ideas and psychological models onto a construct (the Enneagram and Gurdjieff’s model of the psyche). This is fine and reasonable but we have to remember that this in itself makes it a construct, and no construct of the psyche is perfect and complete. Naranjo says that his model of the Ennea-types is not a mere “collection of personality styles,” but “an organized set of character structures…” mapped to the Enneagram diagram (italics in the original).13 Naranjo does not say specifically who did the organizing, but one can only assuming he was referring to himself. He does, however, wheel out Ouspensky’s assertion that Gurdjieff claimed “in a general way the enneagram must be distilled as a universal symbol and that each science may be interpreted through it, and that, for somebody who knows how to use it, the enneagram makes books and libraries useless.”14

Naranjo cites this in a footnote, perhaps to lessen the boldness of the claim, but I reference it here because this statement continues to be taken seriously by some Enneagram teachers. Sure, each science “may” be interpreted through the Enneagram, but doing so adds little value to the sciences in question. I would argue, in fact, that trying to interpret sciences through the Enneagram is naïve and diminishes the science. The belief that the Enneagram is some sort of sacred symbol implying universal “laws”15 is a pure faith statement and unsupported by evidence. Since that which is proposed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, I feel justified in dismissing it.

My point, however, is that as brilliant as Naranjo’s work at developing the Enneagram is, no body of knowledge should be considered complete, unalterable, or non-improvable.

The limitations16 of the Naranjo approach (from which most of the Enneagram literature on subtypes originates) is a tendency to think about three basic instinctive drives without accounting for the plethora of more proximate individual instincts, the contradictions they create in behavior due to the modular nature and evolved-over-time structure of the brain, and their relationship to the ultimate goal of all instincts—reproduction.

There is much to unpack in that last sentence. Before doing so and moving on to a broader perspective on the instincts, we have to talk about the process by which instincts come to be: biological evolution.


“Evolution” is a word that is used by many people in many different ways, but when it comes to biological evolution, many people don’t truly understand what it is or why it matters. Because humans are evolved, biological creatures, any conversation about their nature must start from an understanding of biological evolution and its implications. (In my experience, many people with a psycho-spiritual bent either ignore evolution or distort the science in order to accommodate their metaphysics. I’ve included a list of books in the footnotes for people who wish to broaden their understanding of this fascinating and essential area of the study of the human condition17.)

I’ll ask the reader to indulge me in providing a short overview of evolution before returning to the topic of the Enneagram and instinct-based subtypes.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection is arguably the single greatest scientific insight and an idea that has had profound ramifications in science, philosophy, religion, and politics. Poor old Alfred Russell Wallace :o( (Being that he ended up a spiritualist, it is for the best J) Unfortunately, those ramifications have been negative on occasion when people who didn’t truly understand Darwin tried to apply their (faulty) interpretations of Darwin in social experiments. This, combined with the fact that Darwin’s ideas upend many traditional religious understandings of the universe, may be part of the reason why so many people avoid learning about this profound insight in any depth. Unfortunately, in the United States Darwin’s ideas are so controversial that nearly half the population won’t accept them as true. But, in addition to having profound implications across many domains of knowledge, Darwin’s theory18 is as robustly supported by evidence as any theory in science.

So what was Darwin’s insight? It helps to think of it as an algorithm that explains biological change over time. The algorithm has two factors—random mutation and natural selection.

Random mutation is the fact that genomes (the genetic code of individuals)19 mutate as they pass from one generation of an organism to the next. This happens in, essentially, two ways: cross-pollination and random “copying errors” that occur in reproduction.

Here’s an example of how random mutation works: John and Mary fall in love, marry, and decide to have a child. John Jr. is born with half of his father’s genome and half of his mother’s, and after fertilization of the sperm and the egg some of the 21,000 genes in John Jr.’s genome were the victims of random errors in the copying process. Thus, John Jr. is very much like John and very much like Mary, but also a bit different. Someday, John Jr. will meet and fall in love with Jane, they will decide to have children, and the process repeats itself. With each generation, the children become less like John and Mary, while still carrying on some of their genes and characteristics. Over lengths of time that are beyond human comprehension, John and Mary’s descendents will evolve into something completely unrecognizable to either of them.

Natural selection refers to the fact that while most mutations are detrimental, the mutations in some descendents will better equip them to procreate (and thus their lineage is more-likely to continue) while the mutations in others will make them less-equipped to procreate (and their lineage is less-likely to continue). Thus, it is nature that “selects;” the individual that better fits environmental circumstances has a better chance of procreating than those who don’t. Characteristics originating in the genes of those “fit” individuals will more likely be passed along than characteristics of those who don’t fit. (It is important to point out here that “fit” doesn’t mean “stronger,” “smarter” or “bigger,” it means appropriateness for their environment. Some environmental conditions favor “weaker,” “dumber,” or “smaller.”20)

Thus, evolution is a remarkably complex game of statistics in which those traits and behaviors that increase the chances of reproduction get reproduced more often than those traits and behaviors that don’t increase the chances of reproduction. Evolution is blind and it is non-intelligent; it is not heading in any particular direction and it cannot predict what the environmental conditions will be in the future (just ask the dinosaurs). It is a simple algorithm that has been playing out since the first flash of life or prior to that even? Isn’t this how lived itself evolved?. (Perhaps, but I’m not comfortable discussing RNA duplication and life vs. non-life and would prefer to stick with this generalization. If anyone challenges it I’ll deal with it, but can’t imagine many will…)

To understand evolution and how it relates to instincts, we must understand another important concept popularly summarized in biology as “Genes mutate. Individuals are selected. Populations evolve.”


The first part—“genes mutate”—should be clear at this point. The second—“individuals are selected”—has been touched on but it is important to point out that individuals are not consciously selected, the algorithm selects them and the evidence of their selection is that they pass on their genes. The genes that get passed on are those that increase the chances of the individual’s ability to pass them on.

The third phrase—“populations evolve”—is the one that most people seem to understand least. It is quite common to read statements along the lines of “such and such a trait (or gene or behavior) ensures the survival of the species.” (In fact, I read such a statement in “The Enneagram Monthly” the very morning I was writing this section of the article.21) Evolution has no interest in the survival of our species or any other species. Evolution only creates change in populations over time, and millions and millions of species have disappeared from the planet. Some species last quite a long time (some jellyfish species, for example, have been around for over 500 million years), but for the most part species come and species go. Either they go extinct or they morph into something completely different (such as dinosaur species that have evolved into our current birds). Our species—homo sapiens—is a relatively recent development and generally considered to be about 200,000 years old. Nothing in nature “cares” about our survival as a species and it is highly doubtful that our species will exist in, say, another 200,000 years. Even if we do avoid extinction by nuclear war, global warming, or giant asteroid impact, etc., our descendents will change into at least one—if not many, many—new species over time.

We can take this a step farther and say that the term “species” is just a convenient shorthand, a way to categorize similar individuals, and that “species” don’t actually exist. They are merely a “category of diverse instances” and the reality that every individual is unique runs counter to our innate psychological need to see essential qualities in objects.22

“Populations evolve” means that “nature” doesn’t care about species, our genes don’t care about species, evolution does not work for the benefit of a species. Over time, the descendants of any given population will morph into something else through the algorithm of random mutation and natural selection.

What about Instincts?

In a sense, “instincts” is a concept similar to “species”—no one really agrees on what they are, exactly how many we have, and the extent to which instinct-related behaviors are a mix of innate biology and the individual’s experience with his or her environment. When talking about instincts we are best abandoning the idea that there are three instincts and adopting the notion of “categories of instances.”

It is, however, generally agreed that humans have instincts. Bateson and Martin are helpful here, and their book “Design for a Life” is a good introduction to ethology (the biological roots of behavior). They write: “Instinct is protean because it takes on many different forms, causing great confusion in the process. Instinct is also regarded by some as the basis from which all behavior is created. In common usage instinct as various other connotations…” However, they point out that these multiple understandings, even within the biological sciences, make it difficult to find real behavior patterns that fully match the concept of instinct.23

That said, it is a useful concept and to Bateson and Martin, instincts are systems of behavior with biological roots that take form in response to the ecology of the individual and develop in a “highly coordinated and systematic way.”24 Bateson and Martin go on to explain how systems work best when they are based on a combination of automaticity of particular functions combined with varying degree of flexibility—too much flexibility brings chaos and, thus, inefficiency; too much structure limits adaptability to the shifting environment.

Following the lead of Bateson and Martin, I will use the term “instinct” with the understanding that instincts are “modules of behavior” that are “the product of Darwinian evolution, so that, over many generations, the behavior was adapted for its present use.”25

When thinking about instincts and Enneagram subtypes, there are a few concepts we must keep in mind.

The first thing we have to understand is that instincts work at varying degrees of proximity to an ultimate goal—increasing reproductive fitness. As we saw earlier from Merriam-Webster’s definition, an instinct is generally a “heritable” (passed on) adaptation that allows an individual to respond better to the challenges of its environment and thus be more fit. Again, “more fit,” means more likely to pass on its genes. Thus, all instincts, ultimately, are nonconscious, heritable behaviors that increase chances of reproduction of the genes. They are not necessarily behaviors that increase the chances of survival because any given organism only “needs” to live long enough to reproduce and ensure the viability of its offspring.

More proximately, however, it seems reasonable to place specific instincts into more distinct groups because they provide either a specific or general advantage that indirectly leads to increased probability of reproduction. Our instinctual craving of sweets and fats is a good example—those individuals who crave sweets and fats are more likely to get proper nutrition and thus more likely to be healthy and live longer and thus more likely to procreate and help their offspring survive until they can fend for themselves. Such cravings are not rooted in a “self-preservation” instinct, per se, but they do increase the chance of the individual surviving longer and thus reproducing.

This is not to imply that every individual will or should reproduce, of course. Nature can be clumsy and imperfect; many people who wish to reproduce are unable to do so for any number of reasons beyond their control and we can choose not to reproduce if we believe that is the right choice for us. As Keith Stanovich (sounding much like Gurdjieff, oddly enough) points out in his excellent book, “The Robot’s Rebellion,” we may be robots programmed to do the things that increase the chances of reproduction, but we can rebel against the mandate of the machine and choose for ourselves.26

It also helps to think that some of our instincts have a longer leash—i.e., allow us more latitude in choosing whether or not to act on our impulses—and some have a shorter leash—giving us less latitude. The craving of sweets is a good example—nature didn’t imbue us with the craving for oranges, it gave us a more general instinct because, in our past at least, sweet things were generally good for us. The puffing of a man’s chest and exposure of the neck with a sweep of the hair, however, are very specific instinctive behaviors that occur when people are sexually attracted to each other.

The second concept we have to remember is that, as Bateson and Martin point out, we have many instincts, not just three. It is possible to categorize or group these instincts in various ways and at various levels of proximity to the ultimate end, and it is reasonable group these instincts into three broad domains at a step or two from the ultimate end of reproduction. That is, it is reasonable to create “categories of instances.” (Freud’s focus on major, discrete drives that he called the “self-preservation,” “social,” and “sexual” instincts was a step in the right direction, but didn’t capture the fact that these are actually categories of instances because he didn’t have the insights of ethology and evolutionary psychology that came later.)

It also seems evident that people have a bias toward one of these three domains. There are theories on why this is, and some have claimed that we have a bias toward one because of some felt deficiency in our childhood. Perhaps that is the case, but it is a speculative explanation at best. I’m not as interest in the “why” as I am in the “what” when it comes to why someone is a particular type or subtype and I think that, from a scientific perspective, we are still a long way from knowing the “why.” However, we do know that members of all social species differentially express instinct-related behaviors. This is a common adaptive mechanism found in social species—if you are good at this and I am good at that, we can communally be good at two things rather than being mediocre at both. Further, specific expertise helps us prove our value to the group, the group accepts us and helps us stay safe, and being safe and accepted increases the chances that we will pass along our genes. Proximate goals feed the ultimate goal. So I don’t know the mechanism for causing each individual to have a bias toward one of the instinct domains over the other two, but I understand that such biases are common in nature and they are evolutionarily adaptive and that is enough for me.

Third, we need to understand that the expression of our instincts is affected by environmental and psychological factors. Thus, everyone of a particular instinctual bias will express the instincts within that domain in a different way. People of different Ennea-types will express the instinctual biases in different ways; people who have had different life experiences will express the instincts in different ways. For example, a Preserving One (commonly referred to as a “Self-Preservation One” in the literature) will have a different attitude toward issues related to that instinct domain that a Preserving Two will; but both of them will have an instinctive bias toward issues in the Preserving domain.

Even within subtype, you will see different expressions of the instincts. I, for example, am a Navigating (i.e., Social) Eight (N8) for whom going to bookstores, especially when I travel, satisfies deep instinctive needs originating in that domain. For me, going to a bookstore in a new city helps me understand the place and its people, it gets me into a reasonably controlled environment where I will be surrounded by people to observe and interact with (or not, depending on my mood). Not every N8, however, finds the same instinctive satisfaction in going to bookstores. Something in my psyche identified this behavior as a way to satisfy particular needs and the instincts found expression in what became a particular habitual behavior.

Further, some people with different instinctual biases will exhibit similar behaviors, but do so to satisfy different instinctive needs. I know plenty of preserving and transmitting types who love bookstores but they get a different instinctual satisfaction from the act.

Finally, we need to remember that instincts can be contradictory. This is because the brain has evolved over time in response to environmental conditions and demands and it has evolved in a modular way. Thus, one part of our brain tells us to do one thing for our own good and another part of our brain tells us to do something else for our own good. For example, one brain module might drive us to eat sweets while another module tells us to not eat sweets; both serve our interests, but these drives cannot distinguish the difference between an orange and a chocolate bar. This is why we often end up feeling so conflicted in our instinctual domains. We will explore this idea in more detail when we talk about the specific instinct domains.

Looking at the Subtypes Anew

Because of all these factors, when talking about the subtypes we have to be very careful about assuming too much and asserting that “all self-preservation types” do this or that. It is not that simple. Humans are profoundly complicated and defy easy categorization. That said, working from a few basic principles we can infer quite a bit.

There are a few fundamental principles I wish to summarize before we circle back and look at the instincts, Enneagram, and subtypes from a more biological perspective:

  1. Instincts are rooted in biology and shaped by our environment and our psychological response to it.
  2. There are many instincts, not just three.
  3. All instincts ultimately increase the chances of reproduction, but they satisfy more proximate goals along the way. Those proximate goals can be clustered into domains, and each of us has a tendency to non-consciously focus on one of those domains.
  4. Instincts can be either specific (short-leash) or general (long-leash).
  5. Since evolution is blind and unintelligent our instincts are also blind and unintelligent; we should neither glorify nor demonize them. Psychological health includes the ability to manage our instinctive impulses.
  6. Instinctive impulses are often contradictory.
  7. Instincts in humans are extremely complicated and defy easy categorization.

The second part of this article will examine the implications of the ideas contained in this article, and propose a different way of look at the subtypes that attempts to incorporate a broader perspective given what we now understand from the science involved.



1Taleb, Nicholas Nassim, “The Bed of Procrustes,” p. XII

2By “traditional” I refer to the understanding of the subtypes that grew out of teachings of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo.

3Bateson, Patrick and Paul Martin, Design for a Life: How Behavior and Personality Develop, p. 79.

4 Accessed Dec. 24, 2013.

5Sulloway, Frank, “Freud: Biologist of the Mind,” p. 5.

6Erwin, Edward, ed., “The Freud Encyclopedia: Theory, Therapy and Culture,” p.389, 2003.  Accessed online on December 20, 2013 at

7 Ichazo, Oscar, “Letter to the Transpersonal Community,” 1991. Accessed December 28, 2013 at



10Naranjo, Claudio, “Character and Neurosis,” p.11.

11Naranjo, p. 9.

12It seems that there is an error in this section of the book and clearly Naranjo meant that Marx focused on preservation goals and Freud focused on sex goals, rather than vice versa.

13Naranjo, p.13.

14Naranjo, p.13, footnote 4.

15The so-called “law of three” and “law of seven” in the Enneagram literature are not laws at all, since in science laws are invariable (they always apply). The laws of three and seven are, at best, heuristics—rough “rules of thumb” that serve as a point of further exploration.

16I want to be clear that I am using “limitations” in the most respectful way—all models are limited, all bodies of knowledge are incomplete and (one hopes) ever-improving. Referring to “limitations” is in no way meant to diminish Naranjo’s accomplishment and any useful and valid additions to the literature of the Enneagram of personality stand on his shoulders.

17Excellent introductory books on evolution include Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True,” Richard Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters,” and the National Academy of Sciences’ primer, “Science, Evolution, and Creationism.”

18Many interpret the word “theory” to mean something that is speculative, which is a valid colloquial use of the word. In science, however, the word “theory” is an overarching explanation of a set of facts. In the same way that the “theory” of gravity is not speculative, the theory of evolution is not questioned by any serious exponent of the natural sciences.

19Darwin did not actually know about genetics, so he didn’t understand the mechanism by which modification occurred over generations, but he knew there was something at work that caused change.

20I was once asked why there are still cockroaches if significant evolution actually occurs by an alleged Enneagram authority. The simple answer is that some environments are really suitable for cockroaches.

21 “Conversation with Laleh Bakhtiar,” “The Enneagram Monthly,” November 2013, p. 20.

22See Barrett, Lisa, “Essentialist Views of the Mind,” at for a good explanation of the dangers of the essentialist bias.

22It is necessary here to touch on the topic of “teleology” or purpose in evolution. When talking about evolution, it is impossible to avoid the language of purpose and refer to evolution’s “goals,” but such language is only metaphorical. As we have seen, evolution is blind and unintelligent, but it is a convenience to talk about it if it were not. If evolution were intelligent, the vast majority of mutations would not be detrimental, and I would not have nipples, an appendix, or a tailbone. Thus, when we are talking about goals we are really talking about “results,” but completely avoiding teleological language makes discussing evolution almost impossible.

23 Bateson and Martin, p.78-79.

24 Bateson and Martin, p.98.

25 Bateson and Martin, p.87.

26Stanovich, Keith E., “The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin,” University of Chicago Press, 2004.